How I Built This – A Great Podcast

Recently, I’ve enjoyed listening to episodes of a podcast How I Built This“. It’s about “innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.”

This NPR podcast is created by Guy Raz, who also created the popular TED Radio Hour podcast. Each episode is an interview with an entrepreneur that draws out the triumphs, failures, and luck they encountered on their way to building some of the world’s best known companies and brands. The end of every episode is a quick account of the story of a random business leader in their own words.

Recent episodes cover:

  • Whole Foods Market: John Mackey
  • Lonely Planet: Maureen & Tony Wheeler
  • Lady Gaga & Atom Factory: Troy Carter
  • Real Estate Mogul: Barbara Corcoran
  • 1-800-GOT-JUNK?: Brian Scudamore

Well worth the listen if you want to understand a bit more about the years of hard work needed to create an “overnight” success.

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Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures” is one of those must-see motion pictures of 2017–the story of black women who provided essential support as computers for NASA.

In that day, “computer” was a job title for a human who performed calculations on electro-mechanical devices. They were essential to engineering, financial, and other firms because they did the math until machines such as the IBM mainframe depicted in the motion picture took over that work–one of the very first examples of the job displacement by information technology that we now take for granted. By the way, one of the duties of the famous physicist Richard Feynman at Los Alamos was to break complex calculations into parts that could be performed by teams of computers.

It’s both inspiring and hard to watch. Inspiring for what they accomplished as people and as computers and, in one case, as a mathematician. Hard to watch for the society- and government-sanctioned contempt with which they were treated in the America of Jim Crow.

As well as the story, the sets were a stroll through the past of memory–rotary phones with cords, mechanical calculators, the old percolator coffee pot (best way to burn coffee to impotability!), the institutional green glazed tile walls, TVs with rabbit ears, chalk boards, and that particular variety of wall clock that I think was standard in every office and school at least through the 1980s.


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The Last Kingdom: Season 2

Finally, Netflix is streaming the second season of “The Last Kingdom“, the dramatization of Bernard Cornwell’s well researched and written “Saxon Tales“.

Uhtred, the dispossessed heir of Bebbanburg, a Saxon raised by Danes, finds himself in the service of Alfred, King of Wessex, the last real Saxon kingdom in Great Britain and a wealthy and well-organized little country. Neither man wants the company of the other but Alfred needs Uhtred’s expertise in battle, with the Danes especially, and Uhtred needs a powerful ally if he is to reclaim his home.

The major happenings in Season 2 concern Alfred’s attempt to become King of All the English while keeping the peace with the Danes. It gets a more complicated than usual when the Danes take the Mercian port of London. It gets way more complicated when the Mercians arrive to take it back.

The pressure from the Danes in relentless and Uhtred is Alfred’s go-to man-of-action although Uhtred is unruly and a dedicated pagan. Unfortunately, as a skillful fighter, an astute commander, and a man raised by Danes, Uhtred is a potential threat to every pretender on the island. This creates political enemies for him in Alfred’s court and in the Church.

I like a lot about the series although it’s pared down from Cornwell’s wonderfully detailed books. It’s bloody and muddy. It looks like the producers have gone to pains to portray the time faithfully. There’s no resemblance at all to a “Camelot”-like or Dungeons and Dragons version of the Middle Ages. There are no new great stone castles or buildings of any kind because the only such in Great Britain at the time were Roman ruins.

A touch I enjoy especially is a trick that appears when the action moves to a different setting. The name of the setting appears in Old English and morphs into Modern English. So Witanceaster becomes Winchester, Beamfleot becomes Benfleet, Dunholm becomes  Durham, Eforwic becomes York, etc.  This connects the history to the present.

Good blend of English and Scandinavian actors too.

I can’t wait for Season 3!



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Luna: Wolf Moon

Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald, is the sequel of Luna: New Moon and the second novel in what I hope will be a long series. There’s so much to explore in the world (moon) McDonald has created.

Over the course of a few hours, Corta Helio, the family firm that supplies the Helium 3 that fuels the fusion reactors of Earth, has been attacked and shattered. Its principal habitat is a desolate vacuum, its important people are dead or are scattered and in hiding, and the other great families are picking over the remains. And, by the way, the great countries of Earth are concerned about that Helium 3.

As was the case in Frank Herbert’s Dune, of which McDonald’s unfolding Luna opus reminds me, the fall of a great house on the Moon is the beginning of more than it’s the end of because, for each of the big players, the assets of Corta Helio are too valuable to allow to fall into the hands of another player, and the remaining Cortas are desperate enough to take some big risks.

McDonald continues doing what he does well–throwing interesting characters into dangerous situations in societies and situations based on reasonable extrapolations from current technological and societal trends.

For a person who’s interested in space flight and emerging technologies, this series is unending entertainment and thought-provoking speculation.  McDonald seems to have done his research on libertarian ideas on how to organize a society without a government, 3D printing, orbital mechanics, current thinking on how living on the Moon might work, and … cake baking.

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